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Chapter Text

     A bowl-like structure floated upside down in the river. The waterproofed straw twirled in slow river currents, rocking sluggishly for something so lightweight. This lackadaisical activity could have continued on for several more kilometers, but for a pair of sharp eyes narrowing in interest.

     Large paws adapted for the most hazardous of slopes and the trickiest of prey crept across a tree’s exposed roots. Erosion had left the stiff wooden cords dangling midair before sinking deep beneath the riverbed. A large, long tail balanced out the curious creature as he leaned over the water’s edge. There! The predator's paw batted at the ajirogasa, diverting it off course. Beached upon a blanched root among the shallow reeds, the hat nearly capsized. The large feline bit into the edge of the straw, saving it from drowning. Lifting his head up, the snow leopard carried the ajirogasa as if it was something more precious than prey.

     Careful maneuvering allowed the big cat to avoid near-lethal traps as he returned from patrol. His human littermate was curled up against their mother, sound asleep. Setting the straw hat down, Akiyama greeted his parent with a murmured purr.

     “What did you find, Akiyama-kun?”

     “Treasure!” The adolescent snow leopard's tail twitched with excitement as he tipped the inside of the ajirogasa into her view. Mirura inhaled sharply,

     “A human cub.”

     “Could we keep it?”

     “Akiyama!” Mirura chided, “This human cub needs his mother’s milk. He needs to survive a few winters first.”

     “Yes kaa-san.” Akiyama was hardly deterred, but decided to wait for Tobirama to wake up. Surely his littermate would agree. Tobirama had been deeply saddened by the loss of his younger littermates and had yet to recover. The ache would never go away, but a new cub should help alleviate Tobirama’s loneliness among the humans.

Chapter Text

     “Good morning cub.”

     Tobirama stretched, a serene smile on his lips, “Good morning Mirura-san.” Red eyes blinked open, only to widen as Akiyama pounced on him,

     “You’re awake! Come see, come see!”

     “Good morning Akiyama-kun,” Tobirama wheezed as he dumped the hyperactive furball to the side.

     “Come on slow-slug!”

     Tobirama rose up halfway off the ground, “You are going to regret that!” A playful gleam was halted by a straw hat thrust into his face. “Itai!” The ninja hissed as he recoiled, eyes watering from the pain.

     “Gomen ne” The ajirogasa was nudged closer as Akiyama bowed, “I didn’t mean to hurt your eyes niisan.”

     “I’m fine,” Green chakra danced over Tobirama’s hands. The reactive tears retreated from the energy, sinking into pale cheeks. Blinking, the pale ninja looked down.

     Kneeling at the speed of perception, Tobirama found himself choking on a lump in his throat. A shaking hand reached towards the tiny soul, but halted at the edge of the straw. “Is this a punishment?” He hadn’t ever thought the snow leopards could be this cruel. But then it was his fault for failing Itama, after failing Kawarama. His fault for breaking his promise to keep them safe.

     “For what?” Akiyama flattened his ears, “It’s ours now, the human cub doesn’t have an adult looking after him.”

     Maybe it wasn’t intentional then… “There's no chakra signature.”

     “The human cub still breathes,” Mirura reassured her white-haired cub, rolling the infant over with a few firm licks.

     Underneath the infant’s robe was a seal that suppressed chakra. Upon releasing the adhesive ink, Tobirama suspected the tag had worked too well. The baby’s faint signature was flickering. Healing chakra was applied a bit hastily as Tobirama instinctively anchored the spark of life to this plane of existence.

     Boosting the baby’s chakra meant that the infant reflexively began to wriggle. Sighing in relief that the infant was responding, Tobirama scanned the child for any injuries. His chakra then focused on mending tiny scrapes, easing a terrible stomach cramp and healing growing red skin rashes.
But besides near starvation, healing chakra could not fix the result of the ultraviolet burn located underneath the not-quite newborn’s eyelids.

          The infant was blind.


     Once the baby was resting in a new makeshift outfit (made out of spare linen the ninja kept for bandages), Tobirama looked up. Focusing on the nearest sources of population, Tobirama spoke, “There’s a monastery not too far from the next Hiraishin marker.”

     Akiyama pushed himself into Tobirama’s arms, pleading, “But I found the cub. This one’s for you.”

     His older litter-mate took a shuddering breath, a hand reaching out to bury long slender fingers in Akiyama’s fur, “I appreciate the thought, but this little one needs a mother’s milk.”

     Akiyama flopped down, careful not to squish the human cub, whining, “Kaa-san said the same thing.”

     “Mirura-san is very wise.” Tobirama hummed, red eyes misting as he inhaled in carefully controlled patterns, “The monks at the temple should be able to point me in the direction of some aspiring parents.” Mirura got up to prowl closer, curling up as a supportive barrier behind Tobirama’s back.

     “Why would monks know that?”

      “Civilian participation in religious beliefs.” Tobirama didn’t quite understand the urge to share intensely private details or devastating truths that could condemn yourself, but perhaps it was a method civilians made peace with their decisions?

     “Why can’t you take the cub home with you?”

     “Because the child,” (male by the looks of the last diaper change), “Is of Uchiha origin. By all rights I should give him back to their clan. But he’s blind and I’m not certain of the reception a blind Uchiha child without parents would receive. And there is no one among the Senju currently able to feed the child. Besides I doubt father would accept an unrelated -blind- orphan into the clan.”

     “So what if you claimed him as yours?”

     “He has no Senju dna, therefore no Senju chakra- which is the reason I wasn’t killed when I was born with red eyes.”

     “But you could make a seal that fixes that right?”

     “I could.” Tobirama really shouldn’t be entertaining Akiyama’s persistence, “But he could and would still end up dead for either being born out of wedlock, outside of the clan, or even because he’d be mine.”

     “I’d maul them first,” Mirura growled at the knowledge that there were still Senju elders who feared Tobirama enough to want their own heir dead. However, owing to the fact the same Elders did not want Touka to end up as heir, most were waiting for Hashirama’s firstborn (even though Hashirama wasn’t even officially engaged yet) before continuing their ‘assassination plots’ that had stopped after Kawarama passed on to the pure lands.

     Tobirama’s lips quirked up, “Hai, Kaa-san.” Since the white-haired ninja had finished his mission early, he had time for a small detour… if Akiyama got off his lap, “We need to go Akiyama.”

     “But I just got the perfect spot down!”

     “And my legs are missing their perfect source of oxygen. Off!” Tobirama scooped the unnamed Uchiha infant into the crook of an arm, pushing Akiyama firmly off his legs. Reluctantly, Akiyama allowed his adopted litter-mate to stand. Eying the full-grown snow leopard he called mother, Akiyama hid a smirk. Mother was pointedly not helping Tobirama stand or looking at the human cub.

     “Is the monastery a sizable distance away?” Score. Go Kaa-san! Akiyama replaced the glee powering his movements, turning an eager gaze on his human-relative. Maybe if we walk, I’ll have time to think of the ‘logical’ arguments Tobirama is so fond of.

     Tobirama shook his head in amused denial, “I’m not walking when this little one needs a meal sooner rather than later. We are in too remote of an area as it is.”

     “We will be talking later cub.” Mirura promised sympathetically, brushing up against Tobirama, looking at him in the eye, before unsummoning herself.

     Deflating, Akiyama entwined himself around Tobirama’s legs, refusing to beg to be allowed to accompany him. Instead he soulfully gazed upwards with theatric mournfulness that almost always won him an extra fish.

     “I can’t.” Tobirama shook his head, “I have to think of what is in the child’s best interest.”

     Akiyama reluctantly agreed, “Can I go with you?”

     “You dislike traveling by my seals.”

     Akiyama sniffed, “I always land on my feet.”

     Sparing a weary glance downward, Tobirama sighed, “We are saying goodbye to the child as soon as a safe place can be found.”

     “But I can come along?”

     Tobirama relented, “You can guard the child while I speak to the monks.”

     Akiyama purred in approval, stepping closer, before an unexpected texture bothered his paw. Looking down, Akiyama blinked at the straw ark that had brought the human cub to him. Impulsively the young leopard flipped the ajirogasa onto his head just before Tobirama’s long human fingers buried in Akiyama’s fur-covered scruff.